Form/content relationship

In a web-based text, by virtue of active participation in selecting links, readers are forced to look at the structure or form of the text rather than through it and to consider how the form is part of the message. According to Bolter (1991), if the form does not contribute to or enhance the message, but merely presents the content in a generic way, then the formal design is a waste of the new writing space afforded by the medium. A formal or form-based enactment of the content occurs when the organizational structure of the web-based text demonstrates and/or reinforces the content of the text. Some examples of the form enacting the content include: a web-based text designed as a Wiki that discusses the use of Wikis in writing classrooms; a specifically structured web-based text that argues for the importance of orientation in navigational design and uses the same design to guide navigation of the text; or a web-based and/or new media text that incorporates multimedia elements in order to argue for the power of multimedia to create or enhance meaning in a text. Content can also be enacted through a unique interface metaphor, in other words, a framing device distinct from a common book or other print paradigmatic form, that contributes to the impact and memory of the argument—an allowance that cannot easily be replicated in print-based texts.

In addition to the potential for formal enactment of content, web-based texts often incorporate a rationale that explains the formal design of the text and how the text enacts the content. This rationale is usually included in a textual overview or introduction to the text (see the following section regarding navigation design). The formal design of a print-based text is determined by well-known generic conventions to a point at which the form, again, becomes transparent—something to look “through.” The form enhances meaning by meeting familiar expectations. The design of a web-based text, on the other hand, has the potential to be non-conventional, unexpected, and unique. An explanation of the formal structure of the text helps to support the meaning behind the structure and the way in which it enhances the content. It is important to note that web-based texts are still relatively new; as these structures become more common and more familiar, a rationale for the design, which has emerged as a convention of web-based writing, may eventually become unnecessary. Question 6 in Category B of the assessment tool considers the extent to which the webtext develops a more significant form/content relationship as well as the presence within the webtext of an explicit rationale for the text’s formal design.

Question 6: Form/content relationship

a) Form/content fit

b) Rationale for the formal design